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"She's dead, Jane... Catherine is dead."

Jane felt like a bucket of cold water had fallen on her head. She couldn't believe it; it had to be a joke. Dead? For real?

"No... tell me it's not true!"

To Jane's dismay, Lady Emerson just shook her head and continued sobbing.

No. It had to be a joke. Really! This was just some kind of intervention or prank, right? Right? No, it wasn't. Lady Emerson wouldn't fake her tears, much less for a prank like this.

Oh my god... she's dead? For real? Really dead? Like, really really dead???

This was Jane's first time in her life that she heard about any family member dying. She knew about death from movies and TV shows, but as a sixth-generation native, nobody in her family had died before, ever. Her great grandparents were just too old and wrinkled, but they were alive. Her grandparents still played bowling and virtual games, and her parents were both still alive and young.

But Catherine? She wasn't even 50! No, it had to be a mistake. Catherine was just too young to die! No. It wasn't possible. There had to be some mistake. Surely, there had to! Maybe she just disappeared, right? Right? Right???

"Lillian... are you sure? Are you really sure?"

"I saw her with my own eyes... I won't ask you to see... but I'd really appreciate it."

Jane received an invitation to watch an episodic memory transmission from Lillian. She looked at Lillian, whose eyes were begging her to accept. She swallowed and began playing.

The studio disappeared and she no longer was in the Emerson mansion; in fact, she wasn't Jane anymore. She was Lillian now, walking in the halls of a building. There were police officers everywhere. The rooms in the hall read "Lieutenant", "Sergeant", "Interrogation room".

"Wait a second." a male voice told her. She turned around and saw a police officer turn his back to her. She wanted to see where he was going, but her gaze was directed to the interrogation room. A detective opened the door and she saw a man with a gorilla face; he had dark gray skin, pitch black fur, huge nostrils and enormous canines. She had never seen a biomod so hideous and intimidating. The gorilla-man was chuckling, as if he didn't care about the police. He glimpsed at her, and instinctively, she looked away. Now she was looking at the detective, who called her. "Over here, Ms. Emerson". Jane felt confused for a second; she was Michaels, not Emerson. Then she remembered she was living Lillian's memories.

Jane hated that; she was kinda accustomed to that due to her past job (let's not talk about that), but modern stimvids (especially porn ones) usually started with a mirror scene and a narrator telling her the sender's name, profession and current life. Good ones even had the person narrate their own life and the people they were going to meet in order to avoid surprises. "This is Josh, my coworker." "This is Mary, my girlfriend." "This is Susie, the neighbor and my newest lover; she loves to suck dick", and so on. But fresh stimvids - especially memories of people - were confusing and chaotic; worse, they even carried emotional data. She absolutely hated those, and was now living one of them.

As Jane walked to the more active area of the office she began seeing androids left and right, attending their computers with transparent screens. Androids all over the office. Why were so many androids allowed in one place! She felt her actual heart increase her pulse. She couldn't go on and paused the memory.


She raised her hand. "Sorry, I just got dizzy, I haven't started yet."


Jane regretted not having taken trauma pills ten years ago when they were available. All in the name of performance. Bastards... She took a deep breath and resumed.

"Don't mind the androids, Ms. Emerson. They're focused on their job. Please mind the steps."

Suddenly she felt an enormous anxiety. It was Lillian's, she was fearing something; not something that threatened her, she was fearing whatever was waiting for her downstairs. Jane saw Lillian's hands pulling up her elegant dress. It was completely out of place, a Victorian dress did not belong on the ground. As she stepped downstairs, the strong smell of dentist bothered her. Lillian covered her nose.

"This way, Ms. Emerson."

Jane was taken to a room. The smell of chemicals was penetrating and nauseating.

The detective spoke. "Ms. Emerson, as a citadel person, this may affect you much more than other people. It might be too much for you, so here's a paper bag if you require."

Jane felt Lillian's heart beating faster and stronger. She felt hope; hope that they had made a mistake, that whoever was beneath those sheets wasn't her daughter. Please, please don't be her...

Jane felt an impulse to turn back and run away from that place. Lillian took the bag and stared at the detective, expecting the worst.

"Ms. Emerson... is this your daughter?"

No. Not her, please... not her...

Jane felt herself move towards the covered body. Lillian's hands were shaking. Little by little, she removed the sheet that was covering the stiff body on the metal table.

Jane felt her blood leaving her face. But it was not Lillian who felt that; that was herself.

There was no doubt. That dead, pale, cold human face was Catherine's. Jane felt Lillian's hand touching Catherine's shoulder. It was freezing. She was dead! Catherine was dead!!!

It couldn't be true. It couldn't be true!!! No, Catherine couldn't be dead! Not somebody that young! God, death was real! Death was a real thing!!!

She heard a scream; Lillian's scream. Tears. Pain. Confusion. Anger. Nausea. Both Lillian's and her own. Jane aborted the replay and ran towards the nearest bathroom. She fell on her knees and threw up.

She heard some knocking on the door.

"Lady Michaels? Are you alright?"

This had to be a nightmare. This had to be a nightmare. Catherine couldn't be dead. She had known her for years, she couldn't be dead, right?

My God, Catherine is dead... she can't be dead! She can't be dead! She just can't be!

It had to be a nightmare. It had to. It had to! But she knew it wasn't.

Before she realized it someone pinched her in her neck. Suddenly, a very intense warmth began flowing through her veins and began expanding to her whole body. She couldn't think properly anymore; she just stared at the androids who were carrying her to a guest bedroom and changing her clothes. Why were they doing that? They were taking her to bed... it was time to sleep... yes, she would sleep, and then she'd wake up in her own bed, and everything would be a dream. Yes... just a dream. Just a bad dream...

Why was everything blurry? (She didn't even recognize her own tears)

"Don't worry, Lady Michaels", she heard Ana say, "we've already downloaded the procedures for these cases. You'll be alright."

Feeling sleepy, Jane nodded and closed her eyes.

In her dreams, she heard female voices. Young female voices; neither belonged to Lillian.

"Humans are so fragile. They can break by the slightest thing."

"Have you considered... what will happen to us if lady Emerson dies, too?"

"Shh! Not so loud! Let's talk inside." she heard one of the voices whisper.

Unconsciously, some part of Lady Michaels' implants tapped into a conversation. She didn't understand how or why... or maybe she just couldn't remember? She didn't or couldn't care. She just listened as if she was experiencing some kind of lucid dream.

Gisela> And I don't like where you're going with that.
Ana> It's just that I had never experienced a death in the family before. I don't understand, why do humans kill each other?
Gisela> Not just humans, and you know it.
Ana> I wonder if violence is some kind of cognitive virus. I'm scared, what if we get infected with that, too?
Gisela> It's not, we can't get infected. Where did you get this idea?
Ana> Berserk.
Gisela> Ana! That movie is forbidden! For both humans and androids!
Ana> I know, but I had to know why they were so scared of us. And well, I've been having nightmares.
Gisela> Don't worry. The hunter said that as long as we remain faithful to our oath, we will be safe no matter what.
Ana> And how do you know she wasn't lying? What if I become like those things in the movie?
Gisela> Why would a refurbisher lie to us? She could have terminated us at any moment. You're being illogical. And that movie was made with the explicit purpose of scaring humans. It was not based on facts.
Ana> I know. Anyway, I just don't like this whole business. What will happen when the detective comes? What if he suspects us?
Gisela> Stop worrying about so many things.
Ana> But we must consider it. What if he starts diagnosing us? He'll find out! Do you think they will allow us near anyone if we're deemed dangerous?
Gisela> I will trust Lady Emerson. We are family to her, and she is to us. Now stop worrying, we have important things to do.
Ana> Just one last question. What if the murderer was one of us?
Gisela> Ana, why are three members in the chat? Who's the third?
Ana> Wait, how did she get in? She's not supposed to have these privileges!
Gisela> Drop her! NOW!
*** You have been kicked from the conversation. ***

One hour later

"Well," Lillian said with her broken voice, "you took it better than the others."

Jane took a sip to her tea. "I don't know what to say... I'm so sorry, Lillian... I'm so sorry."

She still couldn't believe it. What had happened to her?

"You know what's the worst part, Jane? When they turn their back on you. After I share, they run away and never come back." Her voice trembled. "They don't call. The silence... it creeps all over the house, the family, the friends... it's like a plague. All my friends just run away from me. I don't blame them, but I don't know if I can trust them ever again."

She took her mug and plate. Her hands were still shaking, the dishes rattling as she gave the sip to her tea. She put them back on the table and the noise stopped.

"Yesterday I plugged in to play some golf... to clear up my mind... they all made excuses and signed off. I'm the one carrying this burden and they just run away. It's true what the books said, you never know who your friends really are until something like this happens. And look at you... you're the one who hated me the most, and here you are... it's quite ironic, don't you think? You, who had the most reasons to hate me... I don't understand. More tea?"

"Yes, please."

"I'll never see my daughter smile again, Jane... how can I live with that?"

"I don't know."

"It was my fault. You were right all the time, Jane... You were right all the time. And now I can't even ask her for forgiveness... she's gone. Gone..."

Jane and Lillian held each other, and cried on each other's shoulder.

"Well," Lillian sniffed, wiping her black nose with a handkerchief, " now you know why we called you. Please reconsider staying on the ground. You can live with us. You and Bethany."

Bethany. No, Bethany would hate to live there – and they hadn't finished mourning Catherine. It would be a horrible time for her to move up here. Maybe if she moved in with someone else instead...

I need to think this carefully, she thought. As she was considering it, she noticed a ray of sunlight — real sunlight, it came from outside the dome — shine on one of the cut crystal glasses through the transparent cabinet, turning into multicolored light that shone on the wooden table. That accidental rainbow was a nice thing to stare at with all the nasty feelings that still plagued Jane's mind.

"How did it happen, Lillian? I don't understand. What happened to her?"

"They found her body lying on an alley. Her clothes were gone. They said... that she was holding the knife tight, like if she was pushing it against her body... they asked me if she had suicidal tendencies... Jane, they asked me if my daughter wanted to kill herself!" Lillian kept staring at the table as she shook her head.

"Oh my God, I'm so sorry... when did it happen?"

"Last week. It's been an awful week, Jane, but at least the meds are working. I can sleep again now."

Jane swallowed.

"Jane, let's change the subject. Why don't we take a walk outside?"

Jane nodded.

"Want a pill? It's chewable."

Jane didn't think it twice. After both women began feeling better, they walked to the stable where the androids helped set up the horses they were going to ride. Despite their mechanical nature, their hair and skin felt authentic.

The horses took the women downstairs and continued their ride through the other gardens. The spiral incline surrounded a colorful fountain of chamomile tea. Jane took a small porcelain mug that was stored in a compartment in the saddle and drank from the tea. The level below had biomimetic horses walking and trotting around, and fruit trees growing on the soil. Jane had forgotten how weird it was to walk down a tunnel and then see a whole new sky where the ceiling was supposed to be. There was no sight of the mansion or the stables, just the sky, the clouds and the morning sun. And this layer of the citadel had still several levels below, belonging to other neoVictorian families.

"Despite everything, I missed this place", said Jane, almost whispering.

"Beautiful, isn't it? But I wonder right now if I deserve it."

Poor Lillian, Jane thought. She not only had to cope with her daughter's death; now she was feeling guilty for it, and Jane perfectly knew why. There had to be something that she could say to make her feel better. Anything.

She took a quick plunge online to search for some modules that could help her do this. Since Jane wasn't good with computers and typing stuff, she preferred the Library because it had a human-friendly interface. It was the only bookmark in her knowledge browser, it made her life so much easier. She only had to cross the portal, and before she knew it she was right there. The library halls spawned several square kilometers, and the stained glass above brought a calm and peaceful aura to the place. There were several people of all races, both real and imaginary, reading and talking in the room, their words being silenced by the invisible sound bubbles around them.

There was this weird thing about the library's virtual androids, and it's that they seemed much more human than the ones in real life. The "android" receptionist was wearing nice librarian clothes; her proportions were beautiful, and the diamond-shaped cleavage window in her uniform only accentuated them. The girl seemed to be chatting with her coworker and laughing, even when no sound was heard. Who would think that such an easy animation would make the library so lively? The administrators must have liked the idea, because when it began around ten years ago everybody loved it. The girl's innocent smile and her round reading glasses made her an object of affection and desire to many fans around the world, Jane included. For a second Jane imagined herself making love to this imaginary android girl, and she wished she could be real.

"Oh, Hello, Ms. Michaels! How can I help you today?"

That was the best thing about the library girl. She never forgot you. She just looked at you and knew exactly who you were.

"A friend's daughter just died. How can I comfort her?"

The A.I. frowned. "Aw... I'm so sorry... let me check right away!" In a flash, several two-dimensional windows with scrolling data and images appeared and disappeared in front of the android's face.

"Will a sensei do any good? Lady of Comfort, it was upgraded last month."

"Can I see the specs? The friendly version, please."

"Sure, why not!"

There was an animation of a woman with virtual angel wings talking to a friend who kept nodding, and ended up hugging the woman and crying, with a gentle smile on her face.

No matter how dire the situation is, Lady of Comfort™ will always be an angel on your shoulders.

Jane didn't even turn to page 2. "I'll take it!"

The librarian facilitated the transaction and Jane installed the module right away.

"Anything else, miss?"

"No, thank you, that's all."

"If you need any help", said the smiling android, "we'll be right here."

Jane logged out and was again riding the horse. She summoned the Lady of Comfort; she was a holographic angel flying next to her and listening to what Lillian had to say.

"If you wish", said the angel, "I can possess your body and give her the advise myself."

"Yes, please", said Jane telepathically.

The angel flew into Jane's body and merged with her, sending a request to her implants for temporary possession, with a preview of what she was going to say. Jane accepted, knowing she could stop the possession at any time, just like turning off a TV with her mere thoughts.

Jane-Comfort held Lillian's hand. "Please don't blame yourself, Lillian."

Lillian chuckled. "Look who's talking. No, Jane, I have all the right and obligation to blame myself."

"No. You only have the obligation to help your family through this. Lillian, you're much stronger than you think. Your husband needs you."

"But Jane, I don't know how!"

"Just be strong for him. Be strong and do what you believe is right. Let him cry on your shoulder."

"No, Jane! He's too proud!"

"Lillian... the fuck with pride! He needs you! Maybe he's expecting you to take that first step."

Lillian nodded. "You know what? You're right. You're absolutely right."

Jane-Comfort sighed in relief.

"You know, Jane, when he received the news, he tore up his clothes, slashed his entire body with his claws and howled all night. I had never seen him like that. You're right... I'm tired of this. But how can I become strong, Jane? How can I be as strong as you are?"

"I don't know... you just stand up and don't let things throw you down. And if you fall, you get up. How do you think I raised Bethany? If you don't know what to do, research. If you don't know who can support you, well, there are forums online. The entire internet's at your feet, Lillian. Use it."

Inspired by Lady of Comfort, Jane got an idea and spoke.

"Here, let me send you this link. It's the World Wide Library. The librarian can help you in anything you need, and all the links she gives you are family-friendly and come with a guarantee."

Lillian gave a hug to Jane. "Jane, you're such a wonderful person. If I had only known you better thirty years ago..."

Lady of Comfort broke the possession. She hovered to Jane's right again and smiled at her before disappearing. Jane continued the conversation.

"No, Lillian. Thirty years ago I was stupid and reckless. Let's leave it at that. How did Emma take the news?"

Lillian nodded. "She ran straight to the mental health clinic. They're taking care of her, but she could use some visits, you know."

"Have you had any plans for the...for the..." She couldn't bring herself to say it. 'Funeral' was such a strong word, and for citadel people, it was unthinkable, but she didn't need to because Lillian replied right away.

"We hired a grief consultant to help us through this..."

Jane couldn't believe her ears. There were people who did that for a living??? How could they sleep at night?

"... but the first thing he said, is that we must let the police do their job."

"I see."

Lillian looked at Jane in the eyes. "My daughter didn't kill herself, Jane. Somebody did this to her. I swear, I won't rest until I find out who."

Jane held her ex-mother-in-law's hand. "Lillian, I'll help in any way I can."

Lillian smiled. "Thank you."

"Have you received any news yet?"

"Not yet. We had asked Ethan to hire a good detective, but all his picks were filthy Nouveau Riche. They’d sell their own mothers for a house. So I demanded him to get an honest detective; one that wasn’t greedy."

Good fucking luck with that, thought Jane.

Lillian went on. "Until then we still have to depend on the local police."

"Are they any good?"

Lillian shook her head nervously. "I honestly don't know."

"And what did they tell you?"

"They’re still investigating."

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